An Izakaya Loved Then and Now
Kaiseki cuisine, Unagi, Yakitori, Udon noodles, Soba(Buckwheat noodles). If one were to visit Japan, they are some of the main food genres that represent Japanese cuisine. On the other hand, the “bar” culture that is rooted deeply in Japanese cuisine such as “Izakaya” is quickly becoming popular outside of Japan. So what exactly is an Izakaya? Let’s take a look.
It is said that the original Izakaya culture developed in the 17th century where single men gathered to drink and eat. It was a place for people to spend time drinking, socializing, rather than going home to drink. As such, food was provided as well to go with the drinks though they were small bite pieces.
Until the 1970s, Izakaya establishment’s were frequently visited by men and from the 1980’s, Izakaya chains began to prop up, a la carte menu has expanded, and a good mix of female customers have been visiting as well.
Once reputed as the haven for delicious sake and soul food at a reasonable price, it is may no longer be the case. Since the 1990’s, many stores were very small and and offered original food for customers who had just left work to grab a quick drink. Nowadays, a few of these izakaya restaurants require reservations well in advance. With the internet, customers are now able to read reviews and locate local izakaya’s that may be difficult to find.
Izakaya’s can be considered as bars in Europe or America, but the variation of food offered at a Izakaya is on a different scale. It not only caters to customers who are simply looking to drink, but also to eat so one can often find families eating at Izakaya’s as well. So how is this different from a Japanese restaurant? My Japanese friends find this question quite difficult to answer. To simply put, there are three types of Izakaya’s.
- [A] Local/Neighborhood Izakaya:
- Rather traditional interior, bright lights, and a lively atmosphere. Sake, shochu is paired with simple food. These types of Izakaya’s are adored by its long serving customers.
- [B] Chain Izakaya:
- Conveniently located with fashionable interior and most importantly, an abundance of good food with photos next to the description. Price is fairly reasonable.
- [C] Hidden Gems:
- May not necessairly be located in a convenient area and can be difficult to book is not an understatement. The level of food served at these establishments have surpassed the cuisine one can expect at a typical Izakaya. In addition, the sake and shochu offered here are in limited supply and are rather unique in its own right.
Above the three types of Izakaya’s I mentioned, there are several thousands of them throughout Japan. One can argue that type [A] Izakaya’s are more original in style with lasting impression.
By no means are these establishments slow paced for one to relax and absorb the atmosphere as part of the dining experience. Even if you do not speak Japanese, it is certainly a place for camaraderie as different people shuffle in and out of the restaurant.
Formerly a haven for the older generations, an increasingly number of customers are women. If you are one, I would strongly recommend to visit an Izakaya alone for the experience.
After experiencing type [A] Izakaya’s, I would then suggest trying type [C] if there is availability of course. Although the interor and food is different, what the Japanese perceive as the genuine elements of Izakaya’s can be found in both types of restaurants. It is difficult to express in words when it comes to Izakaya but there is no doubt that Izakaya’s have been loved over generations and it is certainly a place to try on your visit.
→ Check a variety of Izakayas in cinq!
Writer:Miyuki / Translator:Kenta